“There’s no better way to experience a culture than to taste their food!”
We’ve all heard that saying and it’s an amazing one! Not only is it accurate, but it also gives us a good reason to, well, eat! It gives us a reason to try glorious new cuisines, tastes we’ve never even imagined.
It’s no different when it comes to Chinese cuisine. Travellers have brought cuisines from China to practically every corner of the world, and these are the dishes we love and enjoy in our Chinese restaurants today! …EXCEPT for a few exceptions.
Some of the dishes that we know as Chinese and from China aren’t actually from China, and here are some of them. Try not to get hungry; it’s a full-course meal ahead!
Appetizer anyone? Yes, though many of us know chopsuey as Chinese, it actually originated in the United States! There are a number of stories with regards to how it came about—from being invented in New York City to being invented by a chef serving drunk miners in San Francisco, but what no one contests is the tastiness of the colorful lush vegetables sautéd at just the right temperature. Yum!
2) Lumpiang Shanghai
Yes, dear reader, this dish may have the name “Shanghai” in it but if you didn’t know, it actually wasn’t invented in Shanghai! What we know as lumpiang shanghai today comes from the Philippines, but what really makes it really amazing is that crunch you get when you bite into that crispy, golden brown wrapper, followed by the delicious, juicy, salty-peppery, well-balanced flavor of meat. Delicious!
3) Orange Chicken
Now on to the main course. Orange chicken was invented in Hawaii by Chef Andy Kao, former Executive Chef of Panda Express, the largest Chinese-American fast food chain. It consists of dark meat fried chicken, something we all love, coated with a sweet-tangy orange sauce made from real oranges. Everyone just loves it when they bite into that crunchy, orange sauce-coated outside, and yet soft and incredibly juicy inside. Mouthwatering!
4) Beef with Broccoli
Beef with broccoli is one of the many Chinese dishes that features both meat and leafy green vegetables… except it isn’t from China! It came about from the dish called chinese broccoli fried beef (jie lan chao niurou 芥兰炒牛肉), chinese broccoli otherwise being known as the vegetable kai-lan. But because the thick-stemmed broccoli as we know it today is more abundant in the US, Chinese-Americans used it as a substitute, hence the birth of beef with broccoli. But whether kai-lan or broccoli, there’s no doubt this dish puts the “h” in healthy and the “t” is tasty!
5) Hainanese Chicken
Many of us already know hainanese chicken as Singaporean and rightly so! But when you ask where the dish originated from, well, chances are many would say, “Umm, Hainan, right?” Nope. Renowned Hong Kong food critic Chua Lam credits it to Moh Lee Twee from Singapore, who started out as a humble food vendor. He was known for his fragrant rice, and that, along with some freshly boiled free-range chicken and the various sauces to accompany it, as well as that simply to-die-for chicken soup topped with green onions, makes our beloved hainanese chicken. Truly appetizing!
6) Fortune Cookies
Don’t forget dessert! We’ve all thought fortune cookies were Chinese at one point. But according to Japanese researcher Yasuko Nakamachi, who first encountered the treat in New York City, it likely came from Japan. She cites how centuries-old bakeries near a temple outside Kyoto make “obscure fortune cookie-shaped crackers by hand”. She also cites an 1878 reference of a man making them. No matter how fortune cookies found themselves in Chinese restaurants, however, we all enjoy that feeling of excitement when we crack one open, read our fortunes (just for fun of course), and munch on that sweet and crunchy cookie right after!
7) Ube Hopia
But wait, still hungry? Time for an afternoon snack. We all know hopia as Chinese, but one Chinese-Filipino named Gerry Chua took it a step further by creating ube (purple yam) hopia. Chua successfully married what is Chinese (hopia) and what is Filipino (the sweet, purple yam), and by doing so, created ube hopia, which is uniquely Chinese AND Filipino. It’s history (and taste) can’t get any better than that!
Now, the issue with all this talking about the origin of food is this: really, we cannot say that these dishes were “one hundred percent created in this certain place by this certain person”, no. Those dishes had to be inspired from somewhere.
Here’s what I mean: hainanese chicken, for example, was likely inspired by an earlier ancestor called wenchang chicken or chicken rice from China. Moh Lee Twee didn’t just come up with hainanese chicken out of nowhere one sunny afternoon.
So what’s the takeaway? I think all this just proves how connected we really are with each other. Whether it be in terms of food or even languages spoken, we share, we recognize similarities, and we are one human race.
The author of this article:
An accomplished young Chinese Filipino writer and media personality, Aaron S. Medina is associated with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Ateneo de Manila University Chinese Studies Program, the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies, and CHiNOY TV. He has a passion for truth, justice, and Pokémon, too! Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aaron.joseph.s.medina/